City reserves 56,000 acres for industry


Jacksonville Business Journal - June 8, 2007

by Kirstin Dorsch

Staff Writer


JACKSONVILLE -- The Jacksonville City Council has passed legislation to protect industrial land from residential conversion and stop the depletion of land available for job creation.

The Industrial Land Preservation Bill, passed May 22, designates industrial sanctuaries and areas of "situational compatibility" for industrial use, sets up buffers for those zones and creates the Industrial Technical Advisory Committee.

Land designated as an industrial sanctuary is land already in use for industrial purposes or land

reserved for future expansion. Though it doesn't prohibit zoning conversion of that land, the bill makes it difficult and costly for residential builders by requiring increased buffer zones at the builders' expense.

"What we have tried to do is create severe hardships on people so they would never think of developing residential," said Councilman Lad Daniels, sponsor of the bill and president of the First Coast Manufacturers Association.

Areas of situational compatibility are land parcels set aside for industrial use that may be suitable for some residential use, though it will not be as simple for residential developers to use them as land not zoned for industrial use, Daniels said.

During the housing boom over the past several years, much industrial land was converted to residential use, said John Haley, vice president of business recruitment for the Cornerstone Regional Development Partnership, the economic development arm of the Jacksonville Regional Chamber of Commerce.

"It was causing wholesale loss of potential land for industry use," he said. "The zoning process is a relatively cumbersome process, so it's not something -- once it's changed -- that is easy to change back."

Now that the housing market has slowed, the need to protect land isn't as urgent, but a plan for the future was needed, Haley said.

A developer who wanted to rezone land near Heckscher Drive and Eastport Road from industrial to residential spurred the legislation, Daniels said. Though he voted against the rezoning, the council passed it. Mayor John Peyton vetoed the rezoning.

"All of a sudden, we began to realize there is so much pressure for residential property that we are beginning to nibble away on our seed corn," Daniels said. "If we continue this trend, we are going to wake up one day and not have any property left for job creation."

The bill sets aside more than 56,000 acres for industrial use, 10.3 percent of the county. About 33,000 acres are in industrial sanctuary zones and 23,000 acres are in areas of situational compatibility. Much of the undeveloped land designated as industrial sanctuary is around the port and at Cecil Commerce Center, though half the land at Cecil is undevelopable for environmental reasons, Daniels said.

The set-aside land will last 30 to 40 years before build-out, Daniels said, giving the city time to decide what to do beyond that.

Mix of perspectives

The Industrial Technical Advisory Committee will be responsible for reviewing proposed zoning changes that would affect the industrial sanctuaries or areas of situational compatibility. It will have seven members: a commercial property owner, a residential property owner, a residential builder, a residential property developer, a commercial developer and two representatives from industrial businesses.

The committee is a mix of residential and industrial so that both perspectives are included in recommendations given to the planning department about the development of land in Duval County, Daniels said.

"What I am hoping is the industrial guys who are more concerned with global trade will begin to understand and appreciate the political process that exists locally that the residential guys deal with every day," he said. "I hope the residential guys will learn that we need to create jobs. I am hoping they will learn from each other."

The ordinance sets aside land for expansion, as well as areas to relocate companies that want to move or expand to Jacksonville. Setting aside the land assures potential industrial developers that there won't be encroachment from residential property.

By bringing more companies into these industrial zones, more jobs are created, said Sean Kelly, zoning administrator for the city planning department.

"Right now we have this in place to stop the conversion of industrial lands where we want to protect and benefit the eco-nomics of the city in the long run."